Which Jesus are we selling…optional or essential?

I have a couple of personal anecdotes I’d like to share with you. They are narratives which will neither surprise nor shock you as coming from me. In fact, both of them are entirely predicable in their context and their outcome.

The first happened when I was in college. There was this girl (see, totally predictable!). We had a couple of classes together (it was a SMALL college, I was NOT a stalker, really) and got to be friends. As predictability goes, I soon wanted to be more than friends. Much more. As confidently awkward as I could, I shared with this girl my deep and undying love for her. I loved her and had a wonderful plan for our lives together. It was perfect. We were perfect. Well, perfect except for part of her loving me the way I hoped she would. She liked things about me and enjoyed being around me (for the most part) but there was nothing which compelled her to want to commit her life to mine. I played all my cards but she just wasn’t interested in my love.

The second happened just a couple years ago. I was hanging out with a group of friends and we decided to get something to eat. We agreed that French fries were what we were hungry for so we headed for a local establishment which served fries you could get with a variety of toppings. They are kind of like French fry versions of nachos. I went with my personal favorite, bacon-cheddar fries with a side of ranch dressing. I was waxing eloquent to one of our group about how amazing they were. The greasy gooey goodness dipped in ranch is something they just HAD to try. No matter how I described the utter amazingness of the pile of cholesterol in front them, they just didn’t have a desire to taste (even a little) to see how good they were. Quietly another friend leaned over and whispered, “You know they are a vegetarian, right?!”. Oh ya, I guess that WOULD make a difference. But still, they are SOOOOO GOOD! Whatever…

In both cases, I was offering something that just didn’t appeal to them. I was offering nothing they wanted and nothing they felt they needed. I was reading Luke chapter 3 last month and I began to understand these interactions were exactly how I have been talking about Jesus with people. “He loves you so much! He is so amazing! How can you resist giving your life to Him?!” While all that IS completely true, the light went on in my spirit that I was missing the boat.

In Luke 3, John the Baptist comes preaching to those outside of Jerusalem. His calling by God was to “make ready the way of the Lord” (Luke 3:4). Simply put, his job was to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah, to prepare their hearts to welcome and receive the promised Messiah.

His methodology? He preached repentance from sin because of impending judgment (Luke 3:7-9). Seriously! He did not try to sell how beautiful, how wonderful, how incredible, and how amazing the Messiah would be. It is only in an understanding of the coming judgment for sin that we see the desirability and beauty of Jesus.

The beauty of Jesus is that He, who Himself is completely sinless, left heaven and came to earth so that He could suffer the Father’s wrath for our sin on the cross. He took my place in judgment, He took my sentence of death, and He took my guilt upon Himself. Jesus took the weight of my guilt (our guilt) upon Himself and suffered the fullness of God’s judging wrath in my (our) place. What could possibly be more beautiful than that?

Sin and judgment in the current religious environment of our world seems to be mostly ignored as outdated and irrelevant. The idea that God would sentence a person to eternal damnation in hell is scoffed at as ridiculous. The Bible could not be clearer on the subject, though. Hell is described as a place outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12) and a lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

Just because people reject the idea of hell (the biblical hell, not the “party with your friends” hell) does not mean it is not real. My daughter and her family recently moved to South Carolina. One of the first aspects of living there they had to prepare for was the reality of hurricanes. It was stressed upon them the necessity of securing and storing various essential items for when a hurricane would hit. The question is never “if” but rather, “when”. Tatum and James can scoff at the idea of hurricanes and how dangerous they can be but their scoffing will mean nothing but disaster when a bad one descends upon them with no time to adequately prepare. Such will be when judgement comes; “…and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matthew 24:39).

We must, I must, stop trying to convince the world of a Jesus which is an “optional” Jesus. Jesus is the definition of “essential” and it is within the scope of His “essential-ness” that we begin to realize how beautiful, wonderful, and truly amazing He is.

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